From seeing films for free to winning an £1,800 payout, our team tells how their funds fared

The Victories 

Jeff Prestridge: ARTS ON THE CHEAP: When I am not working, I divide any spare time I have between three big passions – running (rather badly); immersing myself in the arts (theatre, cinema and jazz clubs); and watching football teams Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion attempt to make it into the Premier League.

All somewhat costly pursuits, even the running as a result of my propensity to enter races I do not then turn up for as a result of a niggle here and a strain there.

The only shrewd move I made this year in pursuing these passions was in plumping for an annual pass to the Curzon chain of cinemas – located not just in London but in Sheffield (where my eldest son lives); Oxford (where I have friends); and Canterbury (where I am hoping to establish contacts).

Toby Walne decided to leave energy supplier, Ovo, after it attempted to stall a smart meter

Toby Walne: CUTTING ELECTRICITY BILLS: The electricity bills for my four- bedroom home are astronomical – regularly topping £200 a month. 

Sometimes I wonder if the neighbours have somehow palmed their bills off on us – although I must admit our house is more than 300 years old and a wicked draught constantly runs through it during the winter.

This year, I have managed to seize back control of my energy bills – although somewhat fortuitously. First I ditched supplier Ovo Energy after it got shirty after attempting to install an energy ‘smart’ meter – surprise, surprise it did not work. Apparently I had the wrong type of meter.

Using a comparison website, I quickly found another energy supplier – Bulb. Not only cheaper – £300 a year cheaper – but providing much better customer service. A smart move, I reckon.

… but we were stung by Bitcoin and the bee-keeping scheme  

Jeff Prestridge: INSUFFICIENT MORTGAGE CONTROL: This time last year, I set myself a dream goal: to be mortgage free by the end of 2019. Of course, I still have a year to go but I have not quite made the progress I had anticipated.

I did make an overpayment last month and I am putting money aside in a tax-friendly Individual Savings Account so I can reduce any outstanding mortgage come the end of next year. But I could have done more this year. Marks out of ten? A miserly five with a note – written in capitals – to self that says: Get saving, Jeffrey.

Sally Hamilton: BITCOIN MELTDOWN: A year ago, the newspapers were awash with stories of vast fortunes being made during the Bitcoin mania. As a personal finance experiment I decided to join the stampede and invest £100 in what many said at the time was a one-way bet to untold riches. Hah! Not likely. 

Last time I looked, my £100 investment had dwindled in value to £21. I think I will stick to good old cash from now on.

Laura Shannon: CHILDCARE COSTS: It is no secret that nursery places don’t come cheap. 

My daughter’s nursery is worth every penny in terms of what it provides and the lovely people who work there, but it’s still an eye-watering chunk of household income to sacrifice. Therefore any State help should be pounced on. 

I wasn’t completely useless in this regard and instructed my husband Rob to set up tax-friendly childcare vouchers through his employer. This was while I was still on maternity leave and in a bit of a ‘new-mum fog’.

But over this past year, since the mist cleared and I returned to work, I’ve realised we would be better off under the new Government Tax Free Childcare scheme. 

Probably to the tune of around £500 a year. But now I’m reliant on my husband to cancel his vouchers before I can open a new account.

It’s all a bit of a faff, but needs must. Hubby, get a move on.

Toby Walne: BEES NO MORE: Along with my son Harrison, I am a beekeeper. We started the year with two hives but ended with none. 

It can be an expensive hobby – the gear cost £600 – but two years in it was paying its way in honey. The bees loved the hot summer. That was until ‘robber’ bees attacked and stripped one hive – ruthlessly stealing all the honey while defenders fought to the death.

The outsiders then turned their attention to the surviving nest. It held up well until wasps joined in – not just after the honey but the protein from the unborn brood.

So in the dead of night, I drove the hive to a friend’s garden five miles away.

My loss was his gain. In the autumn he sold 50 pots of their honey for £5 each.

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